2020 was a year like no other in our lifetime, with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the global economy. Despite the many challenges, women around the globe continued to show up, step up and lead
It’s these types of women that global company Practice Ignition named in its Top 50 #WomeninAccounting for 2020 − a list that celebrates the amazing women who are driving advocacy, change and creating opportunities in the accounting and bookkeeping industry.
Whether they do so through education programmes, providing free resources to support small businesses, or creating community-led initiatives and seeking to raise up the next generation of leaders, these women are actively and passionately driving the accounting industry forward.
Those included in the list came from all corners of the globe and ranked among the highest on a scoring system which took into account:
- Dedication to promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and beyond
- Investment in the next generation and the future leaders of accounting
- Advocacy of the accounting industry and support of the wider community
Accountancy SA spoke to three of the South African CAs(SA) who made it onto this prestigious list.
Author: Monique Verduyn
Making the move to online
Tzippy Subotzky, partner at Howard Joel and Company, a firm started by her father in 1996, runs a training office that employs trainee accountants and helps them to achieve all the competencies they need to qualify as CAs(SA).
She joined the firm in 2003 and became a partner after qualifying in 2005 because the type of work, type of clients and lifestyle suited her.
‘As a full-service accounting firm, we provide all the services that a business needs to run their back end, including general bookkeeping, monthly management accounts, outsourced payroll, financial statements compilations, independent reviews, auditing, tax compliance, tax advisory, tax planning, secretarial services, and more. We also specialise in dispute resolution with SARS objections and enjoy advising on tax efficiencies in business and on a global level.’
The firm employs 17 people, three of whom are partners. In addition to four CAs(SA), two are trainee accountants, one is a tax technician, two have certificates in bookkeeping and one has a BCom in HR and industrial psychology.
‘The type of people we like to hire are people with a thirst for growth and lifelong learning,’ Subotzky says. ‘We have clients from all types of industries, with a focus on retail and manufacturing. We have recently created a signature solution for attorneys and other service-based industries.’
She doesn’t consider herself a ‘born entrepreneur’ but she believes it is important to have vision, good people skills, be open to learning and to change, and have good mentors. Most businesses, she says, thrive when the business owner has a mentor who they can learn from, vent to and take advice from.
‘Our practice came back to work after the hard lockdown,’ Subotzky says. ‘We have made it flexible so that if there is an issue, we can work from home. However, we find that in our environment we are most productive when we are working from the office and are together. We are making use of technology and encouraging clients to have virtual meetings instead of physical ones, as that is more efficient.’
On challenges that had to be overcome during the pandemic, she says managing change and expectations (both from her office), as well as the firm’s clients, was vital.
‘Timelines shifted depending on the lockdown levels,’ she says. ‘We have a lot of interaction with SARS, the Master’s Office and the Department of Labour, and they are much stricter with their employees, so we battled to quickly address demands which have arisen during this period. Many of our clients don’t understand this and it has been quite challenging to educate them. There has also been the emotional impact on our staff. The pandemic has caused a lot of fear to arise which also needs to be managed, especially when it comes to “false news”. ’
But there have been some positives, too. In December 2019, the practice management system moved online and over the course of 2020, more data and information processes moved online too. ‘We were able to seamlessly move home when the hard lockdown hit. We also had a server crash at the end of 2020 and the work that was lost (due to a malfunction in the backup system) was so much less than it would have been had we not gone online. This was great as we had been threatening to go digital for so many years and the lockdown pushed us there much quicker.’
Being an accounting practice owner is not the end of a journey, but rather the beginning of one. ‘You have to be open to change and continue on the path of improving yourself all the time both in entrepreneurship and technically. What worked 10 years ago may not work today; by embracing change we can be better employers and service our clients better. Our goal is to help other businesses grow by allowing them to focus on what they are good at. This can only happen with open communication and better systems.’
Partnerships key to surviving pandemic times
When Nestene Botha CA(SA) looked for a partner to whom she could outsource the accounting needs of her clients so that she could focus on helping entrepreneurs to survive the pandemic, she turned to Howard Joel and Company and has developed a valuable partnership with the firm, as they work together to build something that will benefit both women and their businesses for years to come.
Botha completed her BCom (Hons) at North-West University in 2012, and in 2014 she completed her articles and her master’s degree in chartered accountancy. She spent the first three years post articles lecturing on the audit programme at the University of Cape Town. Upon leaving her full-time lecturing career behind, Botha started her own audit, tax and accounting practice – the first virtual audit firm in South Africa. Within three months she grew this venture into a reputable online firm with more than 60 clients and two staff members.
When COVID-19 hit our shores, she and partner Peter Hingston launched Explore ProTech Entrepreneurial Haven to help entrepreneurs across the globe find the support, promotion and referral business they need to survive in a post-COVID economy. She still lectures on an ad hoc basis at various institutions, including the South African Accounting Academy, and enjoys speaking at conferences, but spends most of her time making sure that entrepreneurs from across the globe have an online space to call home, in which they can get all the help they need in order to be successful in a post-COVID economy.
‘I’m on a mission to save the global economy – one small business at a time – and I’m a proud member of the accounting profession,’ says Nestene. ‘Our entrepreneurial haven is a business family of entrepreneurs who choose to work together, grow together and become successful together.’
Botha is not your average accountant, and people find it hard to believe that this is her chosen profession. She says, however, that her knowledge of finance is what has enabled her to help entrepreneurs through several different channels. A prolific author, YouTuber and blogger, her latest book, Small business big dreams: how we survived COVID-19, acknowledges that the post-COVID economy is a scary place to operate in for most small business owners. In the book, Botha looks at what small business owners are doing to ensure the survival and sustainability of their business ventures, and what is working and what is not. She spoke to 150 small business owners and discusses these findings.
‘My aim is to give readers a clearer idea of what to do and what not to do to ensure their small businesses survive in the post-COVID economy,’ she says.
She is also an expert networker and it’s this skill that she has put to work to help small businesses. She says tapping into new skills and new markets is essential to survival in a post-pandemic world. One amazing success story is that of Sommerville Lombard, founder of the Sommerville Agency, a provider of professional virtual assistant services based in Bela-Bela. Before meeting Botha and learning how to network, she had one client. After taking her advice and following her networking formula, she gained 12 clients within three months, from across the globe.
Pursuing a more diverse strategic role
If Logamal Ramiah’s achievements as a student are anything to go by, she was clearly destined to do great things. While studying for a BCom in accounting at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she received the Dean’s Commendation three years in a row and obtained her degree summa cum laude. After completing her articles at PwC, she was seconded to the investment management division of PwC Boston as a senior associate in charge of audits. She then returned to PwC and within a year was appointed manager of Corporate Finance, Valuations and Strategy. After that, she spent six years as CFO of Netsurit, an IT-managed services provider that grew from an entrepreneurial business into a global company.
‘Netsurit was a fascinating and rewarding company to work for,’ she says. ‘Its culture was based on the premise that a happy company is a healthy company; Netsurit helps employees achieve their personal dreams and encourages them to talk openly about what they want to achieve. It was a wonderful culture to be part of as we were able to attract and retain great people. I started a lean-in forum, where women have the opportunity to inspire and encourage fellow women to step forward and take on new challenges beyond limiting beliefs. As women, we should inspire and encourage fellow women step forward and take on new challenges beyond limiting beliefs and grow into senior roles within the IT industry.’
Ramiah joined Optimi Holdings as Group CFO in 2018. The company operates South Africa’s biggest home-schooling provider and saw a major uptake of home-schooling during the national lockdown, when schools across South Africa faced their most challenging academic year ever, with lockdown closures disrupting learning in significant ways.
‘Optimi’s e-learning expertise and capabilities were a real boon for many learners and schools during this period, and the idea of future-proofing schools by enabling them to incorporate e-learning into their teaching programmes really took off during this period, showing how the company could service a need in an unexpected pandemic,’ she says.
In February his year, Ramiah joined investment holding company Masimong Group Holdings as CFO to get into a more diverse strategic role within finance assisting across sectors rather than just one business. The company is majority black-owned and -controlled and focuses on driving sustainable long-term growth and value creation.
‘Corporate finance deals with sources of funding, the capital structure of corporations, the actions that managers take to increase the value of the firm to all stakeholders, and the tools and analysis used to allocate financial resources,’ Ramiah says. ‘It’s an exciting and challenging area of finance and is enabling me to bring much greater value.’
Ramiah is a dedicated mentor and believes in supporting greater diversity and helping women who are under-represented in the profession. She offers career support and advice, shares resources, and mentors and coaches entrepreneurs in growing their businesses.
‘I believe we all have a duty to help others achieve their career goals and I have found the role of mentor to be extremely rewarding,’ says Ramiah.